How to lead the brand planning process

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[sg_popup id=”9″ event=”onload”][/sg_popup]The best brand plan process involves a lot of analytics and thinking before you begin crafting the brand plan. Brand PlanYou should start with a deep-dive business review, that can set up a dig in to find the key issues on the brand. From there, you can revisit and define your brand positioning. And only then, can you dig in and write the brand plan. A smart brand plan should include a vision, purpose, values, analysis, key issues, strategies, and the execution tactics. In terms of numbers, you should also include sales forecasts, marketing budgets, profit statements and then brand goals.

As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” The same could be said about brands, who try to execute blindly without knowing where they are going.

The best-executed brands are also the best-planned brands.

Strategy starts with a vision of where you want to, lays out a strategic program that focuses on an identified opportunity in the market. From there, the strategy must have an impact in the marketplace, with a performance result back to the brand. 

The plan lays out how you will allocate your limited resources of investment, people, time and partnerships, against a potentially unlimited array of choices. The plan should be a forced decision-making tool that narrows your focus on those choices that offer the highest return on effort and return on investment.

The Beloved Brands planning process includes:

  1. A deep-dive business review.
  2. Key Issues
  3. Define the brand using a Brand Positioning process
  4. Writing the Brand Plan.

Stage 1: The deep-dive business review

You should do a deep-dive business review at least once a year on your brand. Otherwise, you are negligent of the brand, where you are investing all your resources. Dig in on the five specific sections—marketplace, consumers, channels, competitors and the brand—to draw out conclusions to help set up your brand’s key issues, which you answer in the brand plan.    


Steps of the business review

  1. Marketplace: Start by looking at the overall category performance to gain a macro view of all significant issues. Dig in on the factors impacting category growth, including economic indicators, consumer behavior, technology changes, shopper trends, and political regulations. Also look at what is happening in related categories, which could impact your category or replicate what you may see next.
  2. Consumers: Analyze your consumer target to better understand the consumer’s underlying beliefs, buying habits, growth trends, and critical insights. Use the brand funnel analysis and leaky bucket analysis to uncover how they shop and how they make purchase decisions. You should understand what they think when they buy or reject your brand at every stage of the consumer’s purchase journey. Also, uncover consumer perceptions through tracking data, the voice of the consumer, and market research.
  3. Channels: Assess the performance of all potential distribution channels and the performance of every major retail customer. Understand their strategies, and how well your brand is using their available tools and programs. And, your brand must align with your retail customer strategies.
  4. Competitors: Dissect your closest competitors by looking at their performance indicators, brand positioning, innovation pipeline, pricing strategies, distribution and the consumer’s perceptions of these brands. And then to go even deeper, you can map out a strategic brand plan for significant competitors to predict what they might do next. Use that knowledge within your own brand plan.
  5. Brand: Analyze your own brand through the lens of consumers, customers, competitors, and employees. Then, use brand funnel data, market research, marketing program tracking results, pricing analysis, distribution gaps, and financial analysis. You should be managing your brand’s health and wealth.

Summarize your analysis to set up the key issues to tackle in your brand plan:

  • What’s driving growth? The top factors of strength, positional power, or market inertia, which have a proven link to driving your brand’s growth. And, your plan should continue to fuel these growth drivers.
  • What’s inhibiting growth? The most significant factors of weakness, unaddressed gaps, or market friction you can prove to be holding back your brand’s growth. From there, your plan should focus on reducing or reversing these inhibitors to growth.
  • Opportunities for growth: Specific untapped areas in the market, which could fuel your brand’s future growth, based on unfulfilled consumer needs, new technologies on the horizon, potential regulation changes, new distribution channels, or the removal of trade barriers. Moving forward, your plan should take advantage of these opportunities in the future.
  • Threats to future growth: Changing circumstances, including consumer needs, new technologies, competitive activity, distribution changes, or potential barriers, which create potential risks to your brand’s growth. Moreover, build your plan to minimize the impact of these risks.

To read more on how to lead a deep-dive business review, click on this link:

How to lead a deep-dive business review on your brand

Stage 2: Laying out the key issues

Lay out the key issues that answer, “Why are we here?” by taking the summary findings of the deep-dive analysis and drawing out the significant issues in the way of achieving your stated brand vision.

A great way to find the issues is to brainstorm up to 30 things in the way of your vision. Then, narrow down your list to the top 3-5 significant themes you see. Take the themes and begin to write the top issues in a rhetorical, strategic question format to prompt a few different strategic options for how to solve each issue. Spend serious thinking time on these questions because the better the strategic question you ask, the better the strategic answer you will get.

Example of using the four strategic questions to focus the brand’s key issues

Another excellent methodology for finding key issues is to go back to the four strategic questions model I outlined in the strategic thinking chapters. This thinking ensures you take a 360-degree view of your brand. Looking at the example below, I have used the four strategic questions and come up with four specific questions that fit the Gray’s Cookies brand.

With various ways to brainstorm and find the issues I recommend for the annual brand plan, focus on the top three key issues, which set up the top three strategies. From there, a long-range strategic roadmap can typically handle up to five key issues, then five strategies.

Stage 3: Create a winning brand positioning

Four elements make up a brand positioning statement, including who you serve, where you play, where will you win and why consumers should believe you. These are the consumer target, marketplace definition, the consumer benefit, and support points.

  1. Who is your consumer target? What slice of the population is the most motivated by what your brand offers? Do not just think about whom you want, but rather who wants your brand.
  2. Where will you play? What is the competitive set that defines the space in the market where your brand competes? Positioning is always relative to the other brands your brand competes against.
  3. Where will you win? What is the main consumer benefit promise you will make to the consumer target to make your brand stand out as interesting, simple, unique, motivating, and ownable? Do not talk about what you do (features); instead, talk about what the consumer gets (functional benefits), and how the consumer feels (emotional benefits).
  4. Why should they believe us? Understand what support points and features you need to back up your main promise. These support points should close any possible doubts, questions, or concerns the consumer has after hearing your main promise.

Before you just randomly write out a brand positioning statement based on your intuition, I will force you to think deeper to help focus your decisions on the best possible space for your brand to win and own.

The consumer benefits ladder

The consumer benefits ladder helps turn your brand’s features into consumer benefits. You should stop talking about what your brand does and start talking about what your consumer gets. The four steps to building a consumer benefits ladder:

  • Leverage all available research to define your ideal consumer target profile with need states, consumer insights, and the consumer enemy.
  • Brainstorm all possible brand features. Focus on those features you believe give your brand a competitive advantage.
  • Move up to the functional benefits by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer. For each feature on your list, ask, “So, what do I get from that?” Challenge yourself to come up with better benefits by asking the question up until you move into a richer zone.
  • Then move up to the emotional benefits. Look at each functional benefit and ask, “So, how does that make me feel?” As you did in step 3, keep asking the question until you see a more in-depth emotional space you can win with and own.

To read more on brand positioning, click on this link:

How to build a brand positioning statement that will help you win in the market

Stage 4: Write a brand plan everyone can follow

We coach brand leaders to build highly focused strategic brand plans that everyone in your organization can follow. We use a workshop style process to help your team lay out a long-range strategic roadmap and brand plan that everyone in your organization can follow. We’ll help your team prepare brand plans for review. We then work with your team to create actionable project plans for each tactic with goals, milestones, and budget.

A typical agenda for a one-year brand plan would include:


The vision should answer the question, “Where could we be?” Put a stake in the ground that describes an ideal state for your future. It should be able to last for five to 10 years. The vision gives everyone clear direction. It should motivate the team, written in a way that scares you a little and excites you a lot.

Brand purpose:

The purpose has to answer the question, “Why does your brand exist?” It’s the underlying personal motivation for why you do what you do. The purpose is a powerful way to connect with employees and consumers, giving your brand a soul.


The values you choose should answer, “What do you stand for?” Your values should guide you and shape the organization’s standards, beliefs, behaviors, expectations, and motivations. A brand must consistently deliver each value.


Your goals should answer, “What will you achieve?” The specific measures can include consumer behavioral changes, metrics of crucial programs, in-market performance targets, financial results, or milestones on the pathway to the vision. You can use these goals to set up a brand dashboard or scoreboard.

Situation analysis:

Use your deep-dive business review to answer, “Where are we?” Your analysis must summarize the drivers and inhibitors currently facing the brand, and the future threats and untapped opportunities.

Key issues:

The key issues answer the question, “Why are we here?” Look at what is getting in your way of achieving your brand vision. Ask the issues as questions, to set up the challenges to the strategies as the answer to each issue.


Your strategy decisions must answer, “How can we get there?” Your choices depend on market opportunities you see with consumers, competitors, or situations. Strategies must provide clear marching orders that define the strategic program you are investing in, the focused opportunity, the desired market impact and the payback in a performance result that benefits the branded business.


The tactics answer, “What do we need to do?” Framed entirely by strategy, tactics turn into action plans with clear marching orders to your teams. Decide on which activities to invest in to stay on track with your vision while delivering the highest ROI and the highest ROE for your branded business.


To read more, click on this link below:

How to build a smart Brand Plan everyone can follow


My new book, Beloved Brands, coming this spring.

How this Beloved Brands playbook can work for you. The purpose of this book is to make you a smarter brand leader so your brand can win in the market. You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution, and be able to analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

The best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique engagement tools are the backbone of our strategy workshops. These tools will force you to think differently so you can freely generate many new ideas. At Beloved Brands, we bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We help brands find growth

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a big idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand. Finally, the big idea must influence employees to personally deliver an outstanding consumer experience, to help move consumers along the journey to loving your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources. We work with your team to build out project plans, creative briefs and provide advice on marketing execution.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

We make Brand Leaders smarter

We believe that investing in your marketing people will pay off. With smarter people behind your brands will drive higher revenue growth and profits. With our brand management training program, you will see smarter strategic thinking, more focused brand plans, brand positioning, better creative briefs that steer your agencies, improved decision-making on marketing execution, smarter analytical skills to assess your brand’s performance and a better management of the profitability of the brand.

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

Graham Robertson bio





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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

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